Review for "Tyrell" by Coe Booth (2006)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Meet Tyrell. He is a 15 year old Black kid living in a roach-infested homeless shelter in the Bronx with his cracked-out mother and little brother. To make a living and supplement his mother’s SSI checks, he scams riders at subway stations. His father is incarcerated, he has long since given up on going to school. He refuses to sell drugs and doesn’t have much but a detailed knowledge of the streets, a fierce desire to protect his brother, a girlfriend that he loves, and a plan to make a lot of money by DJing at a party to get his family out of the shelter.
What I like about this book is that Coe Booth makes Tyrell a deeply flawed, multifaceted character. I could not help but to love him despite his bad (and sometimes very violent) choices, many of which reflect a sexist attitude toward women. He gets it right and he gets it wrong–but I always understood the “why” of Tyrell, as he reflects the manifestation of a life not lived but survived, a boy grown up too fast. This novel is the thought process of a man-child with no role models or people that he trusts. The streets have nurtured him, he’s raising himself. The empathy you feel for Tyrell carries you through this novel and make his life and his motivations understandable.
This book will shock those who are not familiar with (or, who simply choose to ignore) the lives of Black and Latin urban teenagers. There’s lots of cursing here, along with casual drug use, sexual situations. There’s also non-standard English, constant use of the word “nigga.” Get over it. Although “Tyrell” is YA, this is clearly not White suburban YA. It should not be controversial, then, that a story about a Black urban teenager is appropriately written in a language that is familiar to that audience. Given the realistic subject matter here, the language simply is what it is. It fits the novel perfectly.
Needless to say, I loved this book. There’s a sequel to this, I’ll be picking that up too.